This fall, a new museum honoring sports and civil rights legend Jackie Robinson is coming to New York City. The opening coincides with the 75th anniversary of the year Robinson started playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, making him Major League Baseball’s first black player.
Rachel Robinson, wife of baseball legend and founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, first announced the museum project in 2008, according to Ronald Blum of The Associated Press (AP). After more than a decade of delays, she and two of her children cut the ribbon at the museum’s grand opening ceremony last week, which was attended by Spike Lee, Billie Jean King and New York Mayor Eric Adams.
Visitors to the new 20,000 square foot space will take an interactive journey through Robinson’s life, which will include artifacts and memorabilia on display. But while the museum chronicles the groundbreaking athlete’s accomplishments in baseball, it will also showcase his work beyond sport.
As Hall of Fame outfielder Hank Aaron once said, according to the Jackie Robinson Foundation, “Jackie’s character was much more important than his batting average.”
In an interview with the New York Times‘ David Waldstein, Robinson’s son David, recalls his family home in Connecticut: One wall was covered with his father’s athletic accomplishments, while another wall “showcased his father’s social activism, something far more important to Jackie Robinson and her family.”
The museum’s design echoes themes from Robinson’s home: in addition to being a legendary athlete, he was a major civil rights figure who lived a rich and varied life. The museum’s main hall is dominated by four pillars, classifying Robinson’s life into categories: entrepreneur, activist, soldier and family, reports Randi Richardson for the “Today Show”.
“We wanted that first impression to be, wow, he’s done all these things on all these different fronts,” Della Britton, president and CEO of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, told the “Today Show.” “He was doing activism – and it was definitely more simultaneous, it wasn’t sequential – at the same time he was in the military…because he was petitioning to make sure that there was equality in the army.”
For example, during World War II, Robinson was court-martialed after refusing an order to ride in the back of a bus. He eventually won the case and he also successfully campaigned for black soldiers to be allowed to attend the officer training program. In 1964, he co-founded the Freedom National Bank of Harlem after learning that many established banks were refusing mortgages to black lenders. He was also a columnist for Harlem’s New York Amsterdam News and the New York Post.
“[The museum is designed] not to whitewash the story – to really tell Jackie and Rachel [Robinson]as authentically and true as possible, so people can truly understand all the trials and tribulations that come with everything he’s done,” Laura Gralnick, director of experience strategy at Gensler, a design firm who worked on the museum, tells Travel + LeisureIt’s Alison Fox.
On the sports side, the museum offers an interactive model of Ebbets Field, where the Brooklyn Dodgers played. The model lights up as various stories are told, highlighting where famous plays took place and even where Rachel Robinson sat during some games. Other items on display include a 1947 jersey, Robinson’s MVP and Rookie of the Year trophies, his 1984 Presidential Medal of Freedom and his military uniform.
“When we first took on this mission to build the museum for the first time, Rachel said to me, ‘I don’t want it to just be a sanctuary for Jack, I want it to be a place that brings people together and continues the dialogue around the most difficult problem in our society, then and now, which is race relations,” Britton told the Time. “That’s what has kept me here for the past 18 years. And as we have evolved politically during this time, it seems even more compelling and important.
The Jackie Robinson Museum will open in New York on September 5.